Musicians’ letter to Obama

July 16, 2009

Image of a spotlight in a dark room

Peter Gabriel leads music industry call for the President to ban music torture in his July 21 review of US interrogation policy.

Musician and human rights campaigner Peter Gabriel has today written to President Obama requesting an explicit ban on the use of music by US military interrogators.

The letter is co-signed by the Musicians’ Union and UK Music and supported by artists including Dizzee Rascal, Graham Coxon and Doves.

Victims of music torture are subjected to deafening music played for hours, days and months on end in order to ‘break’ them. Such techniques are currently used by the US military to destroy victims psychologically; the long-term damage is often far more devastating than physical injury.

President Obama’s official review of US interrogation techniques will conclude next Tuesday 21st July, and the Administration will amend the US Army Field Manual – which prescribes permitted techniques – accordingly.

  • “We are, of course, against all forms of torture, but as musicians we are particularly concerned about the misuse of music and that this practice may slip under the radar unless you explicitly condemn it,” Peter Gabriel writes to the President in today’s letter.
  • “The practice is an abuse of our rights as well as, of course, those of the prisoners who are subjected to it.
  • “We ask you to send a clear message and explicitly outlaw the use of music to ‘break’ and interrogate prisoners.”

Clive Stafford Smith, Director of Reprieve, said today: “Blasting prisoners with ear-splitting music 24/7 is a form of modern torture. Yet because this technique leaves no visible scars, there is a real chance that President Obama will consider it harmless. It is not. It causes severe psychiatric problems, the devastating effects of which can last a lifetime.

“It is a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions, and an affront to musicians everywhere.

“Reprieve joins Peter Gabriel and the music industry in urging President Obama to explicitly ban the use of ‘torture music’ in the new Army Field Manual, thereby sending a clear message to military and CIA operatives that this technique is officially illegal.”

zero dB is Reprieve’s innovative online ‘silent petition’ which aims stop music torture by encouraging widespread condemnation of the practice. Sign up at


For further information about Reprieve and zero dB please contact Alex Grace, Reprieve’s Event Producer, on 07779 614054 or email:

Notes to Editors:

President Obama’s review: As part of the ‘Executive Order Ensuring Lawful Interrogations’, President Obama commissioned a review of the Army Field Manual, which prescribes all interrogation techniques permitted by the US Military. That review will report back to the President on July 21. The current Army Field Manual does not prohibit ‘no touch’ torture techniques and, despite President Obama’s arrival, such techniques remain in use.

Zero dB: Musicians and fans are uniting against the use of music to torture by joining Zero dB. A long and growing list of supporters includes : Elbow, Dizzee Rascal, Suggs, Graham Coxon, Doves, Massive Attack, The Alabama 3, Ash, James Lavelle of UNKLE, Matthew Herbert and Mr Scruff. They urge their fans and the wider public to sign up to the petition of silent protests against music torture which are being shown on

Zero dB is backed by the Musicians’ Union which is calling musicians to voice their outrage against the use of music to torture.

The UN and the European Court of Human Rights have banned the use of loud music in interrogations, but it is still being widely used. Prisoners describe the experience as harder to bear even than physical torture.

Reprieve’s client Binyam Mohamed from North London – recently released from Guantanamo Bay – suffered 18 months of torture in a Moroccan secret prison. During this time his penis was routinely slashed with razor blades, yet he describes the sensation of feeling his sanity slip during psychological torture as even more horrific. He spoke to Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith, his lawyer, in Guantánamo Bay:

“They hung me up. I was allowed a few hours of sleep on the second day, then hung up again, this time for two days. My legs had swollen. My wrists and hands had gone numb…. There was loud music, [Eminem’s] ‘Slim Shady’ and Dr. Dre for 20 days…. The CIA worked on people, including me, day and night…. Plenty lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors, screaming their heads off.”

The Musicians’ Union was established in 1893 and represents over 30,000 musicians working in all genres of music. As well as negotiating on behalf of its members with all the major employers in the industry, the MU offers a range of services tailored for the self-employed by providing assistance for professional and student musicians of all ages. More info:

Reprieve became concerned by the frequent mention of music torture whilst interviewing clients. It became clear that music is being used as part of brutal psychological torture in the so called ‘war on terror’. Reprieve decided to launch zero dB in order to draw attention to and put an end to this practice.

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 33 prisoners in the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, working on behalf of prisoners facing the death penalty, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

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